CHAPS: Where Healthy Meets Fun

Children’s Health Awareness Program in Schools, USA

Dinan Elsyad on November 22, 2018 in Health & Sanitation

What is a kids favorite thing to eat? Answers like “ice cream” or “pizza” may come to mind, but salads and brussel sprouts were probably the last thing you would think of. To many kids today, healthy food is a burden, and video games are way more important than playing outside. Most kids don’t realize the importance of a healthy lifestyle. If only there was a way to way to reach kids, and show them how easy and fun it can be, to live a healthy lifestyle; this is exactly what 15-year-old Shreya Papneja set out to do, with her non-profit organization, Children’s Health Awareness Program in Schools.

Children’s Health Awareness Program in Schools, better known as CHAPS, was founded in October 2013. The goal of CHAPS is to show kids how important their health is, and teach them how to make choices that support a healthy lifestyle. After realizing childhood obesity is a serious and growing problem, especially America, Papneja set out to find a way to get her message to kids, to help with this growing problem.

It all started with a “Bring Your Child to Work Day,” when Papneja was in fifth grade. Hosted at the American College of Cardiology, she attended a conference, where cardiologists emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle, along with the increasing problem of obesity. Inspired by their words, sparked by their statistics, and motivated by her own personal connection to obesity in her family and in her friends, Papneja set out to make a difference.

“It started out very small,” Papneja said. “It was primarily a blog and a platform for me to just tell my friends and family, however, it grew as I made connections and formed a solid goal and mission.”

“A lot of times, kids don't realize the impact of what they are putting into their bodies, or the fact that they’re not getting exercise,” Maria Izzi, a four-year member of CHAPS, said. “People think, oh, this disease affects someone older than me, I don't have to worry about it right now. Chances are, something that those adults did when they were younger, or failed to do, is what’s actually causing those problems.”

To raise attention about healthy living, CHAPS has held fundraisers, conferences, and workshops. To date, CHAPS has held 3 fundraisers, 3 conferences, and 5 local workshops. The fundraisers are a relatively new idea to the organization. In the past, CHAPS has held its fundraisers at healthy restaurants, such as Sushi Zen, to promote their healthy living lifestyle. The conferences promote a healthy living in the community by using powerful influences like senators, politicians, medical professionals, as guest speakers to talk to the kids. These speakers give presentations to the students that attend, to teach them about the importance of healthy living. The workshops they hold allow for a connection with kids at school, primarily in preschool and elementary schools; these workshops revolve around interactive games that teach the students how to be healthy.

“We don’t just teach them why it's important, but we also give them alternatives that are healthier than what they might normally eat,” Izzi said. “Talking to these kids at school is really important. While we can't change what's going on at home, like a financial situation where they can't afford other types of food, we can still teach them at school, what other options they have to be healthy.”

In addition to the emphasis on nutritional health, CHAPS has also placed emphasis on the importance of exercise. In the past, the organization has partnered with the Virginia School of Bhangra (VSB). Bhangra is an intensive form of Indian dance.

“Dance is a pretty fun way to get exercise,” Izzi said. “There are a lot of kids, though Bhangra, in addition to losing weight, they’re also healthier in general.”

Coming up, on Thanksgiving, CHAPS is partnering with Arlington Turkey Trot. The event is a 5K, which promotes a healthy living style through exercise. In the future, CHAPS is looking to start a couple more events, apart from the conferences, that are much more interactive with the kids.

The members of CHAPS are very passionate about what they do; one such individual is Sean Nguyen.

The kids of today are our future. We are the future,” Nguyen said. “How we eat, how we live now, impacts who we are later. There are so many problems our generation needs to fix, so much potential for us to do good, but we have to be our best selves in order to do that: and that starts today.”

In order to get involved with their mission, contact the organization at [email protected]. To learn more about the organization, visit their website!

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